JUST IN CASE YOU DIDN’T NOTICE, the World Cup finally began today! Group A is all even on single points, with both games ending in draws. Two matches down, 62 more to go…
South Africa vs Mexico was overall the more exciting of the two, in my opinion. Mexico nearly took the lead in the 37th off a corner kick and a tap-in from Carlos Vela, but the goal was disallowed due to an offside call which at first blush seemed completely wrong to me but upon review was clearly correct. The hosts ended up scoring the first real goal of the tournament in the 55th minute on a strong shot from the left foot of Siphiwe Tshabalala, to the raucous joy of the vuvuzela-filled crowd.* They held the lead until the 79th when Rafael Marquez got one past Itumeleng Khune. South Africa came quite close to three points just before full time, with a great effort from Katlego Mphela, but it hit off the post and the game ended at 1-1.
Mexico held the majority of possession but also had a handful of missed chances through shots sent just wide and headers over the bar, as well as a couple of good saves from Khune. The game could have easily been 2-0 Mexico at the half, so if any El Tri fans are going to quibble over the (as I said, correctly) disallowed goal, they should also be lamenting their team’s lack of finishing. For Mexico, I’m sure this draw was a disappointment, but I think South Africa should be pleased with it and should take some confidence with them into their next match against Uruguay.
Speaking of Los Charrúas, their match with France was the late engagement today, and it was a chippy and somewhat unimpressive one. With six yellow cards, one ejection, a brief shoving match and no goals, it was clear neither team was completely sure of themselves. France controlled the ball for most of the match, but could not attack with any focus. Uruguay looked a bit better, with somewhat better attacking and a fairly strong defense. But both teams struggled with their finishing and with capitalizing on the other side’s weaknesses.
Sidney Govou had an early chance to put the French ahead, but he somehow sent Franck Ribery’s cross wide despite being right in front of the goal. Yoann Gourcuff took a couple of relatively decent free kicks, but neither was driven well enough. Diego Forlan had some flashes of strength but couldn’t get Uruguay on the board. It was a succession of similar occurrences throughout the night for both sides. The main notable moments for me: Uruguayan Nicolas Lodeiro was sent off in the 81st on a second yellow after a dangerous challenge on Bacary Sagna; Thierry Henry called for a handball, to the delight of irony enthusiasts everywhere; and Henry had a great chance to win the game with a free kick close to goal in the final minutes, but the Uruguayan defense once again proved strong, and the game ended 0-0.
I think the biggest surprise for me as far as overall performance today was France. I know a lot of people have low expectations of them – and certainly with valid reasons – but I still expected them to be much better today than they were. This is not a minnow team and yet they seemed almost overwhelmed at times. I will be interested to see if this poor match energizes them to perform better against Mexico and South Africa, or if they continue to be flustered.
*Unlike the majority of people, I’m not bothered by the vuvuzelas. They’re so prevalent and constant that on TV, if the sound mixing is done correctly, they basically make up a background of white noise. In person, I’m sure it’s a bit more bothersome, but this is South Africa’s tournament, and I’m keen to let them enjoy it as they wish.